UTO : Cashmere Library : Facts about Cashmere and Knit
Fabrics Even Finer Than Cashmere
Cashmere is Not the Most Expensive Hairs
Cashmere is the lightest and warmest “wool,” but strictly speaking, there are two types of animals that have hair thinner than cashmere.
The first type is the vicugna, found in mountains with an altitude of 5,000m or higher in the Andes of southern Peru. Vicugnas belong to the same family as the alpaca. They look like hornless deer with a longer neck and slimmer body. It is said that their hair is the shiniest, silkiest fiber in the world. (We have touched it before, and it was indeed extremely soft). The thickness of the hair is 10 to 18 microns, and the length is about 20mm to 50mm.
The vicugna is a very sensitive animal that cannot be kept by people. It is protected by CITES, so its hair cannot be harvested. There was a rumor that a suit made with vicugna hair sold for 10,000 dollars in a department store in Japan, but the story is unverified.
The Peruvian government started permitting local Indigenous peoples to harvest the hair, but the harvested amount is too scarce to generate much business.
The other animal with hair finer than cashmere is the chiru. It is also known as the Tibetan antelope, and it resembles Thomson’s gazelle and has a long, thin horn. It lives in the Tian Shan Mountains in China, on the Tibetan Plateau, and in the mountains of Ladakh, India.
Shahtoosh shawls are made from chiru down. They are called ring shawls because they are so fine and light that they can be slipped through a wedding ring. The name “Shahtoosh” was given by the Mughal emperors, and it means “king of wools” in Persian. It was a popular wedding gift item among upper-class people in India, but the chiru population decreased dramatically from 1 million at the beginning of the 20th century to about 7,500 in 1995. It is now illegal to capture chirus or trade chiru products.
News came to Japan in 2001 that a person was arrested for selling two Shahtoosh shawls for about 8,000 dollars. Unfortunately, the existence of this black market indicates that there are unethical sellers and buyers out there.
Chirus and vicugnas are both used for woven fabric, but knitwear does not seem to be available. However, a lesson we should learn is always to monitor and take care of animals so that they do not become endangered. We must coexist peacefully with animals.
Chirus can run as fast as 80km per hour, and the chiru was a mascot of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.